Hey I know it’s the last day of January, but I’ve driven past several windows on my road the last couple of nights that have stale Christmas tree silhouettes still outlined in these procrastinator’s homes. I think I can get away with one last sliver of that holiday cheer we seem to wait so long for, yet disappears so quickly with December’s 31 short days. So cozy up next to hot cocoa and get the red fuzzy wreath socks out one last time…
A woman walked into the cute nook of Annie’s Hallmark in Western New York on a Buffalo-cold kind of December day, a day I bet $100 entailed the emotions of the Bills and the Sabres faithfully losing that weekend, but she had high hopes for purchasing some holiday cards and festive wrapping paper. I love how that store’s contents can transform your present into something that looks like Oprah wrapped it for you. Let’s just call her Jane for anonymity reasons and honor the middle name of our babe known to Troy as “Little J”. Jane browsed the store and does what everyone does – opens the music cards and giggles in the aisles over how fun they are! Karaoke in a card – how can you go wrong?! I’ve been known to get down to a little Cool & The Gang at my local Hallmark. When Jane was done with playtime and gathered her Christmas décor, a particular flyer hung up by the register with care caught her eye, in hopes that a donator soon would be there. There sat this little baby – adorned with a red & white Santa getup, hands held at a position as if saying “Happy, happy, joy, joy!”, and a tongue-smile that will turn your worst day into a melting pot full of warm happy sugar cookie frosting goo.
“And who is this little angel?”
The shopper was informed of the fundraiser that Annie’s Hallmark was holding in honor of their employee Laura’s niece. Just a $1 donation would go towards a raffle honoring the National Down Syndrome Society who advocates for this baby’s inclusion in the world, and also honoring Lyla’s Early Intervention program in order to get some new therapeutic supplies into the hands of those who simply HELP. The store was raffling off a prop that any child would jump onto for a big bear hug. Husky was ready to cheer a little one right up.
“Of course I’ll give! She is adorable. Merry Christmas.”
There with a whoosh of the Buffalo bone-chilling wind blowing the door shut walked an angel out of the store with a jingle jingle of the bell above her halo. Straight out of It’s A Wonderful Life. Little did she know she was going to be the winner of the raffle. Little did we know we were going to be rewarded with a Christmas story for the books.
See Jane is a giving woman. Not only did she give towards a wonderful cause in a heartbeat, but she lives it everyday. Jane dedicates her work hours at a home for institutionalized kids. Institutionalized – a word we often walk away from, rather not think about, pretend a place like that does not exist. Some of these kids are enrolled because they are abandoned for special needs that their parents simply could not handle. Some of the kids have Down syndrome. Kids that just needed a home. And giving Jane doesn’t walk away, she provides it for them.
When the winner’s smile joyfully drove into Annie’s Hallmark to collect her giant white fuzzy prize, she had a different plan in mind rather than what we all thought was just taking Husky home. To continue on with her giving spirit, Jane informed the store she knew just what to do to make this special needs fundraiser a Christmas-kind of special. Just what to do in order to exemplify that good deeds can multiply into 3,000 more good deeds if we keep an open mind to those in need. See there is a little boy living just down the street from Jane that has Cerebral Palsy. This little boy’s family was in the beginning stages of a fundraiser to help with the burdening medical bills that were stacking up like Pringles in the canister called their mailbox… that should have been only filled with snowman Christmas cards. But Jane knew just how to turn those frowns upside down with her new swag. Husky first greeted children as they walked into Hallmark, he then sparked an idea to pay it forward, and now Husky was going to be an incentive for others to join hands and help a family’s little miracle who needed some Christmas cheer more than all those that black sewn-on smile had previously encountered. Kevin Spacey would be so proud.
As Christmas came to an end and Husky was now center stage spotlight of a new fundraiser, Annie’s Hallmark took a day to total up all of their hard work donation by donation. The numbers kept climbing and climbing on the calculator, making some do a double take as to how much the better half of the world actually cared for others. Simply said without any exaggeration needed, Annie’s Hallmark raised $2032 in 30 days. [Enter jaw drop here] $2032 – Wow! The best part? They were $1 donations.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always as easy as patrons opening up their wallets faster than Charlie Sheen can find himself back into rehab. I couldn’t help but chuckle with my mature sister, you-kill-me-with-your-ways kind of laugh when my younger sister told me of a couple instances where she wanted to climb over the counter and do a “Oh no you DIDN’!!” to the customer’s face for not letting her even get through the thoughtfully-practiced charity message intro. An interrupted spiel trying to be nicely laid out over the $117 worth of disposable candy cane wrapping paper and matching gift tags. That’s going to get thrown away quicker than toilet paper after it’s used. That the recipient probably isn’t even going to notice because they’re too drunk off of Christmas Eve’s eggnog and Christmas morning’s mimosas (that’s me!). Now I’m all for nicely decorated packages that let your recipient know you as the gift giver put a littl’ somethin’ extra to say they’re a littl’ somethin’ special to you. But a $1 donation towards an independent future for a girl who looks at the world with pure curiosity isn’t even an option today? All I can say is I only hope you have an ah-ha moment one day that will turn your views around. …But Lulu’s words were a little more “harsh”. Thank goodness they were only words in her head. And I am happy to report she is still an employee at Annie’s.
But for the 2032 people who did open their hearts and wallets to help a little girl strive in this fast-paced world – bravo. A little girl who they did not know personally. A little girl who is deeply grateful. She wishes she could hug you all. (And this is her latest and greatest trick – hugs on demand to mama! You can imagine how my heart melted into that same sugar cookie frosting goo the time I realized she was doing these hugs intentionally to show the love.) Thank you will never be enough for making a difference in Lyla’s days to come. Days that I only hope are like this…
And as for Husky? Well here comes the Haley Joel Osmond kicker of the whole story. Jane and Husky went on to assist in raising $3,000 at a fundraising event for that little boy who needed a little holiday spirit in his mailbox. Two kids who won are now snuggling that fluffy miracle dog at home, and I’m sure both will someday pay it forward once again because of the charity-driven past that little pup comes from.
One last holiday mention I promise - A Merry Christmas it was. Thank you to all who participated in the fundraiser. Especially to Auntie Lulu, Jackie, Joe, and the Annie’s Hallmark staff for keeping the dream alive for many you have never met. And lastly to Jane, who has most certainly earned her wings.